Title: The Waltz Continues
Summary: Remus is found after the war, and Severus takes him in when he has nowhere else to go.
- Chapter 1: Remus Returns
One of the first things you must understand is that less than a day before I lost him, Remus Lupin became my lover and betrayer. And he was gone from me for nearly three years. How could I hate him when he had been flung into the maelstrom, cut free from our Order, alone and in danger of losing his life (or dead, as far as I knew)? How could I love him when he had consciously manipulated me into bed to fulfill his own fantasies, taking advantage of my temporary weakness? Fortunately, there was a war going on and that kept me busy most of the time I was not teaching; but in the early hours of the morning, in my solitary bed, I often found myself praying for his safe return so that I could kill him myself.
Still, unbalanced as it might be, it appealed to my Slytherin nature that Remus wanted me badly enough to resort to deception and trickery. I hated being deceived and tricked, of course. Had our relationship progressed naturally, the pendulum of power would have swung my way, and I would have preyed on his Gryffindor guilt to get what I wanted from him. His disappearance stopped the game in play; and his reappearance changed the rules ?and the game–irrevocably.
The war had been over for a year before Remus was found chained to the wall in a cellar in Chile, where he had been captured and held pending extradition to Azkaban. In the excitement of the months before the last battle, one thing and another led to his slipping through the cracks. The Ministry owed the Order many things. When we asked, in a polite yet threatening manner, for the revision of the laws that would have made Remus Lupin a criminal instead of a hero simply by virtue of his lycanthropy, it took a remarkably short time for the bureaucracy to fall to. By then Remus was in hospital in a neutral country, where his recovery was slow. Fourteen months alone in the dark, hungry, enduring his monthly change without the benefit of either the Wolfsbane or healing potions, had broken him in ways that the preceding disaster of his life had not. Despite having avoided Azkaban, he had lived with the Dementors of his own mind for too long.
The surviving members of the Order talked about what we would do with him. He needed ongoing medical supervision: British lycanthropy law required a six-month quarantine before issuance of a Bill of Health could be considered.
Minerva tentatively suggested offering him a teaching position?as if what the man needed was a daily reminder that he couldn't defend himself against the dark arts, coupled with the pleasures of exposure to insensitive adolescents. Not to mention that without the Bill of Health he would be unable to be legally employed and unable to mingle with either teachers or students.
Fred Weasley let it be known that he could return to the joke business after the six months. But Remus wasn't exactly laughing these days; spending half a year in Fred's bedsitter wouldn't improve that.
Hermione Granger suggested therapy a la Muggle, but imagine trying to explain even the simplest troubles of Remus' life to someone who doesn't believe in magic, or werewolves. He'd end up in another cell. Useless, the lot of them.
After the war, I left teaching, invested my savings in a dilapidated farmhouse an hour out of London, and went into business. Potions, of course, and such ingredients as I could raise myself. I sold to various suppliers in Diagon and Knockturn Alleys, and usurped the contract to supply to Hogwarts. I was not entirely solitary, but I had the luxury of being selective in my company. My days were busy and satisfying. And I lived in a spacious house on quite a large, unplottable tract of land that backed on a hidden forest. It seemed most reasonable, in a maddening kind of way, for Remus to move in with me until he was recovered enough to resume his life.
Remus was delivered in late May. The azaleas were blooming, the daffodils waved. Ah, to be in England. He was apparated into my front garden by the Healer who had had charge of him. Seeing him in the shadows of the magnolias hit home the absurdity of the situation.
I had seen the pictures taken of Remus when he was found. I had read his medical file, more out of curiosity and a masochistic form of voyeurism than from a sense of responsibility. He was not injured badly. Not physically. The silver collar and bindings had left bands of scarring on his wrists, ankles, and neck, but the scars were as healed as they ever would be. Hunger and neglect had left him thin and weak, but he was recovering with the supply of food, clothing, and freedom of movement.
The Healers' main concerns were for the aftereffects of magical and mental damage. Remus had been silenced and blinded by spells for the duration: his voice and especially vision were slow to return. He had had fits of violence at the hospital, but they subsided with time. These past few weeks he had been a model patient. The healer had said docile, but as I looked at him, standing still and stiff in the clothes we had sent him, he didn't seem tamed, but rather waiting for release.
There was no reaction, save his wary face turning towards my voice. His hair, cropped short as it never had been, was completely iron grey, and did not hide his haunted face. The Healer set the traveling case down on the grass.
"I'll be only an owl away, if you need me." The man was nervous, anxious to be away but not convinced it was right.
"I doubt I'll need you." Perhaps not politic. Rephrase. "Thank you. Don't worry."
The Healer looked at me. Did I inspire confidence? I took Remus' hand and placed it on my arm, and I caught the Healer's eyes lingering on the scar that covered where the Dark Mark had burned itself out under my skin. Yes, have a good look and then run off home, leave us here to deal with ourselves. Werewolves and Death Eaters and monsters, oh my.
"Don't worry," I repeat, and I can make it sound like a threat. "Lupin knows me well. We will get on like a house on fire, I imagine."
I didn't expect a reaction from Remus, aside from his face following me like a sunflower, but he nodded tersely. It was this more than anything I said that persuaded the Healer to Apparate away and allow this dubious exercise in rehabilitation.
"Well. Just us two now." Remus nodded again. "Shall we go up to the house?" His hand tightened on my arm, and he glanced around the garden. "Can you see anything?"
He swallowed. "Green," he said, his voice breaking painfully. In our last conversation, before he left, he said that I was as unable to recognize my own neediness as he was unable to recognize green. A test, then.
"Don't be a twit, you're color-blind." His other hand came up and tentatively found my side, and then his arms were around me so tightly that I lost my breath. I held him as well, burying my face in his hair. Surely this was allowed, a moment of grace, outside of the time when we would need to circle each other warily and yell and break things. Yes, he smelled the same, under that deadening institutional smell of alcohol and harsh soap.
"Severus." His voice was muffled against my chest. "Severus, I'm sorry."
"You certainly are one of the sorriest sights I've seen lately. Don't you know how to take care of yourself?"
He shook his head. "Apparently not." He coughed. "I thought of you every day. The first thing I'd do when I got out, provided I wasn't Apparated directly into Azkaban, I'd find you and apologize." His arms tightened around me, if such were possible. "I'm sorry it took so long. I missed you."
"I cannot imagine why."
He nods at that and steps back. Respite was over. "I can see some things, it comes and goes. Right now, light and dark. I can tell your face from your hair. But I'm damned if I know where your house is."
I put his hand on my arm again, pick up his bag, and head up the hill. "This is the front garden. There's a fence that marks where things turn plottable, and a road beyond."
"You're happy here."
"I am. This is the house. Three steps up to the porch, which goes all around. I don't collect clutter, but there's a rocking chair and a table that way, don't fall over them. This is the front door." I own very little that is not practical, so rearranging my belongings to accommodate a blind houseguest was not onerous. "The room to the left is the library, to the right the parlor, and the kitchen beyond. I have work to do. I will be in my lab, off the kitchen. Your room is upstairs. Here's your bag. The stairs are straight?here's the railing?and there are seventeen of them."
Remus paused and glanced back at me. "Did you count them just for me, or are you warning me that you're compulsive?"
"Mocking me already, are you? Up. Stairs."
Remus gave me a calculating look, but turned and climbed. "How many doors down?"
"Third on the right." I paused. "My old wand that I used at school is on the bedside table. I won't have the time to wait on you. You'll have to take care of yourself."
He nodded. "I appreciate it. I'll see you at supper?"
But when I had finally finished the day's work, the dishes drying on the drainboard and the breadcrumbs on the table indicated that Remus had eaten and gone. It was like having an untidy ghost about the place. Everything I wanted from Remus?every last drop of blood I wanted to wring from him, every cringe from the insults I longed to hurl at him?was not enough to fill the gap that his absence had left.
He didn't fear me, I thought, although I had anticipated he might. Instead, I suspected that he would accept any torment I gave him as his due. Penance, he wanted penance. I leant my chair back on two legs and considered this until the candles began to gutter. And then I went up the seventeen steps to my own room, haunted by the unpleasant thought that the endgame of penance was forgiveness. If he could make himself forgivable, I would have to forgive him. Never, never, never.
- Chapter Two: Visual Acuity
I found Remus the next morning asleep on the front lawn, wrapped in a dew-soaked blanket. He was still asleep, even with the rising sun submersing the landscape in warm light and the birds in the woods singing all around us. The light created the illusion that his hair was gold again and his face young.
I swept my robes under me and sat down to watch him. It didn't take long for my insistent watching to wake him (one of the oddities of the human brain, that). He stirred, and in the long moment before waking he tensed: remembering and recalling, I am sure, where he was and what had gone before. I had too many of those mornings myself. Then he uncurled to lie stretched out on his back and opened his eyes. He blinked and his mouth set.
"Severus?" Ah, that sandpaper voice of his. It was worse than it had been before. Hoarseness had devolved into a painfully rough whisper. I hoped he didn't still sing in the shower.
His head turned towards me, and he sat up slowly, untangling himself from the blanket. "It's a bit mad, I admit."
"We all have our madnesses. What is the appeal of my lawn, as opposed to your bedroom?"
"It's a very nice bedroom. But," he said slowly, "it has walls. And I realised, last night, I haven't been outside–by myself, I mean–in far too long. It was good, sleeping under the stars. I think there were stars. I know there was a moon."
"Was it easier to sleep?"
"I didn't need to take any of the potions which I was given nightly in hospital."
"Well, if you find my overgrown grass therapeutic, I won't argue with you. It is cheaper than potions."
"There is that." Remus stood, rolling his shoulders and stretching his legs. He was wearing the same blue trousers and burgundy jumper as he had the day before.
"Shall we go in to breakfast?"
He picked the blanket up, shook it, and deftly matched the corners and folded it. "If you don't mind, I'd like to take a walk. I've heard about your lands and the woods."
"Why would I mind?"
"Well." His mouth twisted in a gesture that I suspected was becoming habit. He did not like to ask for help. "Either I need you to escort me, or I would like you not to watch me if I walk alone." He paused. "I am getting very good at falling down, but I would feel like even more of an idiot if you watched."
"I would not mind walking with you." I stood, and we walked back to the house to drop off the blanket, then down through the kitchen garden to the potions garden, noting the poisons garden on the way. I warned Remus away from the greenhouse, where I kept most of my creatures: animal, arachnid, amphibian, reptile, avian, and fantastic. There was a sadly neglected orchard at the bottom of the hill, and then the meadow leading up to the woods. We achieved a certain rhythm in walking, matching our strides, Remus keeping the fingers of his left hand lightly on my shoulder. We stopped by the buzzing beehives, and then turned to go back. Neither of us said anything.
We were on the path to the house when Remus' hand clenched convulsively on my shoulder. When I stopped he pulled me around. He was looking at me.
"Severus." He was squinting in the sunlight and leaning forward in a nearsighted way, but his hand came up unerringly and his fingers traced my cheek, then brushed back my hair. "You haven't changed. You look the same. Healthier."
"I'm not living in a dungeon anymore." The healer had warned me about this?that his vision occasionally returned. It was spell damage, after all. In his medical file it was referred to as the voodoo-doll effect, since the relief and resumption of suffering were similar to that caused by the removal and application of voodoo pins. Seeing it happen, however, was damned unnerving.
"No." He dropped his hand and tore his eyes away from my face. He turned slowly, drinking in the landscape. "You've done very well for yourself. Is it green?"
"It is every imaginable kind of green." My main crop was weeds. They were remarkably healthy, and supported a large number of useful infestations.
It lasted almost an hour.
We were eating breakfast. Remus had just fixed himself a cup of strong black tea and took a sip. He was lowering the cup when he paused, and then the cup continued its arc without confidence, hitting the saucer too hard and sloshing.
"It's gone." Remus pushed his chair back and went out the kitchen door. He stood with both hands gripping the porch railing, looking out at whatever was left to him. The light of the sky, perhaps, the dark of the trees. I finished eating and began tiding up. At that, he came in and did the dishes, wordlessly.
I thought he was going to wallow in silence, but when he stopped the water and took up the drying cloth he smiled at me, faintly. "So. How did you end up here?" He gestured inclusively with a spoon.
"I bought the house."
"I assumed you did. You had enough of teaching?"
"I still teach. The Guild sends shiftless apprentices my way every so often. But I can and do refuse idiots. I have achieved an idiot-free life. So far."
"You sell potions?"
"I sell potions, I create potions, I raise unusual, hard to get, and frankly illegal potions ingredients in my back yard. What other annoying questions do you intend to plague me with?"
Remus stacked dishes carefully in the cupboard. "I would like writing materials, and for you to tell me how you post letters. I want to start reconnecting with people, and I need to find a job."
"You need a clean Bill of Health first."
He flashed me a look. "St Mungo's has to say I'm not dangerous anymore, you mean. Yes. Still, it wouldn't hurt to write to George and Fred."
I paused, a few seconds too long. Remus' eyes narrowed.
"Which one?" he asked harshly. "Fred, or George? Or both?"
He nodded, once, his lips compressed. "Dead?"
Remus pushed himself up from the table and paced the room, deftly missing the Aga. As he paced he spoke, in a low voice without inflection.
"I don't know what happened in the war. In the end. Voldemort is gone, they told me that at the hospital, they thought I'd be happy. I don't know who is dead. How they died. Who was hurt. I don't know–everything. I tried to keep up with the news before I was caught, but it was just snatches of this and that, and so far away. So far from the people who were my home." He ran his hands through his hair. "I don't know how long I was in that cellar. I don't know where I am now, or what day today is, what hour it is. I don't know what year it is." He smiled, tightly. "In their defense, I think everyone jollied me along because they thought I'd go mad. Or that I already was mad, but they didn't want me raving."
"Not being able to see makes it hard, Severus," he said softly. "Not being able to help myself when I'm being stonewalled. Being at someone's mercy makes me want to bite." I could see the flicker of his anger behind the words.
"I did not know," I began, "that you were so… uninformed. I assumed that in the month you were in hospital, you would have been told." What would the right thing to do be? Not what had been done, obviously. "You are not a fool, you know that people you care for are dead, and I agree with the healers that it will hurt you. But you have the right to decide whether to know and hurt, or remain ignorant." He was watching me. "Today is the fifteenth of May, 2001. You were captured for nearly 14 months. Most probably you spent two birthdays in that cellar–you are 41 years old."
I told him all that I know, and all that I heard. Sometimes I saw the pain flicker across his face, but for the most part he listened quietly, asking few questions.
He had returned home to a different country, one no longer inhabited by ghosts–or Dementors. One in which giants walked and herds of Crumple-Horned Snorkacks roamed the hills with other magical beasts (I myself had in the barn a mating pair of chupacabra). One in which the overthrow of one evil had become habit, and the less-visible evils of oppression and prejudice were being rooted out. The wizarding community was healing and rebuilding and procreating at a frantic pace. Remus' mourning had just begun.
When I finished talking, I brought out pen and ink and parchment, and left Remus to his letters. He didn't have as many to write as he had hoped.
- Chapter Three: Routine
I did not change my routine for Remus Lupin, aside from having to meet clients and friends away from the property. I was not, after all, getting paid to mind him, or even to provide his food and lodging.
My mornings were generally spent making sure that nothing died, which was harder than it sounded and consumed an inordinate amount of time. It was work I was always glad to hand over to an apprentice, when I could get my hands on one. I had to keep the animals free of fleas, chizpurfles, and other pests, as well as keep them clear of the jarveys and the chupas. I had to make sure that no hazardous secretions or outright poisons were released: it would not only have the Ministry down on me, but would also do me out a profit. Not many European apothecaries were able to get their hands on Streeler venom (especially since the EWU had declared it a Highly Restricted Substance). Which made it corrosive gold for me.
When the noonday sun got too hot, I retreated to my lab. I made up potions for owl-order (the Wolfsbane alone consumed a week of my time; but as I no longer needed to purchase ingredients, my hourly fee was excellent?even after deducting the potion Remus was not paying for) and conducted independent research.
My evenings were generally spent filling and posting orders (another excellent job for an apprentice) and writing up the results of my research for publication. I had a near-to-toppling pile of unread professional journals under the writing desk for any moments of spare time.
However, with the necessity of Apparating all over to keep appointments, I was finding myself pressed for time. Even with good scheduling, this meant losing three to four half-days a week. A very many things I meant to do, therefore, went undone.
Remus, I discovered, had a sixth sense for knowing what needed doing, and was far better at DIY than I was. It became part of my routine to emerge from the greenhouse or lab to find the holes in the roof patched, or the barn cleant out, or the broken cages sparkling and flawlessly repaired. Screening spells were carefully set on the windows, and he modified them to capture any insect that came near, providing me with a good supply of food for my creatures. A filtration charm was put on the well. Firewood was cut and stacked.
"You don't need to do all that," I felt compelled to mention, after his third fall off the barn roof.
He cast a cooling charm on a raised welt along his forearm. "You're just worried someone will catch me at it."
"I doubt Minerva would approve," I said dryly. Somehow, I assumed that her idea of convalescence and Remus' were nothing similar.
"But you'd rather not have the barn roof fall in, I assume."
"With or without your head under it?"
He grinned. "I'll finish it while you're out this afternoon. So you needn't be solicitous. Where was it you were going?"
"Cloughjourdan. Ireland. There's a grindylow infestation there."
"Are you going to exterminate them or bring them back?"
"It would serve you right if I brought you one back. I remember the nasty one you used to keep in the staff room. It always used to make a grab for my throat."
"Well, you kept testing potions in its water. Mutual loathing, I would think."
I grunted. Odd how a distance of time could make one nostalgic for something that had once been so violently disliked.
"Will you be eating there, or shall I make supper?"
"I doubt I'll be back before dark. If I make it back tonight. Irish Potions Masters are, well, Irish."
He nodded. "Have fun."
Despite what I'd said, I did not like sleeping out of my own bed, so after two strong cups of black coffee (and a resolution to discover a sobriety potion), I made it home without splinching myself.The lamp in the front hall was lit with bluebell flames. Homely I'm sure, but leaving lamps on was an invitation for a fire. I was trying to work myself up into something stronger than annoyance when there was a thud and a muffled curse. Remus poked his head out the parlor doorway.
"That you, Severus?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Waiting up for me, were you?"
He shrugged. "Just reading. I finally found where you keep the fiction."
"Reading in the dark?"
He looked amused. "Finger-reading. It reminds me of my youthful nocturnal forays into the restricted section of the Hogwarts library. I hadn't expected you to have so many Muggle books."
I looked at the book in his hand and decided not to comment, but he went on.
"Who gave this to you? Or did you buy it?"
"I stole it."
He snorted. "From the bookseller?"
"From the Muggle Studies professor. Every new Slytherin first year had to steal a Muggle book, for burning."
Remus looked scandalized: I doubt he'd ever considered burning a book, even the Lockhart one slandering werewolves. "But you didn't burn it."
"Obviously." I sighed. "I made the mistake of reading it first."
"I used to love the description of Muggle magic."
"I kept it because it was a puzzle. How could they be Muggles, and still have so much that I did not."
The blue light made Remus' scars shine like silver. He quoted, his voice low. "Severus, Severus… ‘Does everyone in the world know know he's alive? I hope they do, oh I sure hope they know.'"
I was still far too drunk to deal with a werewolf paraphrasing Bradbury in my entranceway. "I'm going to bed," I said, and started up the stairs. "I know I'm alive, thank you very much, though I'm sure in the morning I'll wish I was dead. And I know you're alive," and I had to stop and turn to glare at him, "or you wouldn't be such a thorn in my side. Good night."
"Good night," he said softly, and a while later I heard the front door whisper open and shut. It was right before I fell into sleep that I remembered that the man outside sleeping on the lawn was not technically human and legally had no rights until he was provisionally reinstated, and that right now he could be killed just as I might kill one of my animals. Alive, indeed. What kind of a life was that?
And I thought I would dream of werewolves. But I did not.
- Chapter Four: Caught
Remus occasionally talked about what happened. "When I was caught," he would say carefully, pause, and then follow up with some horrific detail, told without emotion or emphasis. He did not say captured or taken hostage or held prisoner. Caught. Like an animal.
"When I was caught," he said one night while we were making the supper, "someone brought me food once a week. Cabbages, bread, things that didn't rot easily. And three buckets of water." He paused. "I used to put cabbage leaves under the restraints. It kept the silver from burning."
"When I was caught," he said pensively as we walked down to the woods on our morning constitutional, "I spent a month or two as a wolf. Turned feral."
"Yes," I said carefully. "It was in your medical file." The healers estimated up to four or five months–a third of his captivity–of his being a wolf, based on the extent of the silver burns. The wolf did not know the cabbage-leaf trick.
He sighed. "I should read that sometime."
"There are pictures."
His hand made a warding gesture, unconsciously. "No pictures. I see so little these days that what I do see lingers." When his vision returned, nearsighted and watery as it was, he sought beauty: the landscape, the flowers, the very few pieces of art I possess. He held an unfathomable fascination for my face: less so for his own. He hoarded these images against the inevitable return of darkness. I agreed that images of his own dirty, naked, abused self, hair matted and empty eyes fearful, would definitely not be such a treasure.
"I'll read you your medical file someday."
He faltered a step, but kept on walking. "I would like that. But not today."
"No. Not today."
"When I was caught," he said, sprawling lazily in front of the fire, "I used to dream about you. What you were doing. I hoped you were happy."
I had had nightmares about Remus. Remus broken. Remus dead. Remus in Voldemort's hands. And what happened was worse.
"When you were caught," I said, and it was like a wave crashing to the shore that I was powerless to stop. "Do you know what kills me every time I hear you say that? We're the ones who caught you. Our allies, who thought you were working for the Dark Lord. And you thought they were, wouldn't give an inch in the five days they interrogated you. But you knew you couldn't hold out. So–being so damned good at wandless magic–you Obliviated yourself, piecemeal. You were at it for hours before they caught you at it and shut you up." Silenced you and blinded you and put you in chains to wait for extradition. Except the war ended, and people disappeared and letters were lost, and with them Remus Lupin.
Remus sat up and looked at me with eyes that saw right into me. Then he smiled, so faintly that it might have been a trick of the shadow, tilting his head slightly to the left. "But I don't remember that, Severus."
How could he joke when he ought to rage. It was too much. I lost control of myself, the anger coming out of me like a dam bursting, in invective and shouting and incoherent primal noises. Anger at captors and at Remus for being careless enough to be captured, at the bloody Ministry and at Minerva, at Remus for apologizing his way through life, and at Remus for being a manipulative bastard whom I could never never never feel sorry for, and at all the damned things that conspired to keep me from wringing his neck. When I came to my senses it was to find Remus taking me by the shoulders and sitting me down gently on the sofa, his arm around me.
"Just because you wished bad things to happen to me doesn't make you responsible for their happening."
I felt drained. "I know that." It is loathesome to have the darkness of one's heart met by sympathy and understanding. I wondered if it was too late to break things. I certainly didn't want to sit on the sofa and have a meaningful conversation. Not with Remus' arm still across my shoulders.
"You can still hate me if you want to. Want to make me grovel for forgiveness. Yell at me–I do deserve it! What's between you and me has nothing to do with what happened to me. I'd rather just talk about you and me, really."
"There is nothing between you and me."
"Then why am I here?" Why did you just fall to pieces, he didn't say. If he had, it would have been easy to tear into him. "I don't think you were feeling charitable. We've nothing to be nostalgic about, really. I thought that you might be wanting to exact your revenge, but you are the first person I've met since I was rescued who has treated me with respect, as a capable and responsible human being. You have no idea how much that means to me."
"I did want my revenge on you."
He smiled, amused. "What happened?"
"We are neither of us who we were." I was glad that he could not see my face. "I don't hate you, Lupin. Quite frankly, it is a drain of my energy, and I have to confess to a certain admiration for your very Slytherin method of courtship." He did wince at that, although his overall expression had relaxed to a hopeful kind of wariness.
"Does that mean you don't want me to grovel?"
"It means that if you still want… what you did, there are things you must do." I tried not to think about penance and its corollaries.
He went very still, like a predator sensing prey. "I still want you, very much."
"Then there can be no lies, direct or by omission. You must be my equal and stand on your own feet. And you have to make me want what you do."
"You don't make things easy, do you?"
"If you want easy, you can give up now."
"No. No, I don't think I will." He pushed himself up from the sofa. "Good night, then, Severus. You've given me a lot to think about. I assume that you will be as honest with me?" he added.
"Haven't I always been?" He stood there, looking down at me but saying nothing. "I will be honest with you, Lupin. Brutally."
"Good." He crossed the room, but paused in the doorway. "Tomorrow I would like you to read me my medical report."
- Chapter Five: Feral
The first change, Remus made me lock him in the barn. He spent several days beforehand weaving protective spells that would make my barn?home to a hundred years of clobber and a plague of rodents?one of the most secure sites in Britain. Remus took the Wolfsbane that I brewed for the required week with none of his customary complaints about the taste and locked himself in. The wards fell at moonset, and I opened the door. I had my wand at the ready, fairly certain that I could stupefy a half-starved wolf if necessary. But in the ring of destruction that now covered the floor, only Lupin lay, naked and livid with bruises.
The second change was nearly the same, except that Remus let me observe the transformation from the barn loft, which he had been busy fixing for most of the month, since I had told him that I was required to observe the change. He had even dragged a mattress up there somehow, and made up a bed, with some odd Muggle chocolates in gold foil on the pillow, which I suspected were sarcastic in intention but tasted rather nice. I pulled up the ladder, wished Remus good luck, and passed rather a pleasant night.
I had tried to get Remus to explain to me about the wolf and the effect of the Wolfsbane.
"It's not unlike being drunk," he had said. "Very, very drunk. No inhibitions. A werewolf is not a true wolf: it has no social feeling at all. It feels anger, and pain, and the desire to hurt, and hunger–bloodlust. With the Wolfsbane, I know who I am–but I see everything through the filter of unadulterated rage." He gave me a look that was almost sly. "The healers thought that only the wolf demonstrated symptoms of madness."
But I thought, as I watched the monster rip its way out of Remus and howl its rage at the walls, that there was a more subtle damage done that the healers,who of course did not know Remus Lupin,had not caught. Remus did not rage, did not take joy, did not express anything save the grim determination to regain himself. The wolf below me had become possessor of all these emotions. No wonder it was mad.
I found myself talking to the wolf as it paced the length of the barn, and sometimes it seemed to listen, to the tone if not the words. I tossed down the sandwiches I had brought for supper: it ate them ravenously. And when it was time for bed, I dropped my robe over the loft edge and watched as the wolf tracked it by scent and then, doglike, turned around three times before nestling into the black fabric.
Remus did not recall what I had said to the wolf but asked, next time, for more meat. He returned my robe, spotlessly clean of grey hairs, with no comment.
The third change, I altered my plans as it was raining. I discovered that the wolf enjoyed steak, and I was almost certain that there was a period when the wolf's vision returned for perhaps two or three hours. The glittering eyes sought me out.
The fourth change, I took the wolf outside.
It had been tricky to set up wards around the grounds without Remus finding out, but it was good practice I supposed. It had also been harder than I had expected to keep a comfortable three metres between the wolf and myself. The creature had an odd fascination with me: in the moonlight I could see the massive nose twitch when it caught my scent and the wolf's eyes shine as it turned to me. Somehow, though, my role seemed understood to be bringer-of-supper and not supper itself. I wondered what would happen if we closed the gap. Not that I experimented. Not yet. I used my wand to rouse rabbits, rats, and other vermin and enjoyed the bloody carnage, thinking, there but for the grace of Lupin. Three metres was safe.
Remus, of course, was nearly speechless with fury when he awoke outside in the grass.
"I thought you found my grass therapeutic."
"You can't trust the wolf. You can't risk your life to play these games. I'll go to St Mungo's next month, I swear, where they know how to contain a werewolf."
"You're free to do that. Although these days I think I get along better with the wolf than you do. It doesn't frighten me. Why does it scare you?"
He froze for a minute, but appeared to be genuinely searching for words. "I just spent… months… apparently, as a mad, blinded, chained wolf. I was in such a bloodlust of rage that I was eating myself. I lost everything to the monster ascendant… Gods, have you ever heard of a feral werewolf being rehabilitated? Has anyone ever done it? Can it be done?"
"You are not a feral werewolf." I didn't mention that we were under quarantine, that the reason no visitors had come to see him was due to the absurd Ministry regulations regarding feral lycanthropes pending the issuance of an official Bill of Health. I suspected he knew full well.
"Define feral werewolf, professor."
"According to Scamander, ‘a lycanthrope which does not revert to human form.'" I'd read that section enough that I could quote any number of werewolf facts. You are human, ergo, you are wrong." He looked as tightly wound as a spring. "Ferals who choose that state are not interested in rehabilitation. You are not going to stay a wolf–you've had nearly half a year of normal transformations. And the wolf is healing as well. I think it has a better grasp of its emotions than you do of yours. Saying you don't trust the wolf is a way of denying your emotions. And denial keeps you from healing."
Remus shut his eyes, and to amuse myself I silently counted to ten with him. He had to do it twice, and even then his voice shook. "Severus, I know what my godsdamned emotions are. I was chained to a bloody cellar wall for over a year. I am so fucked in the head that on a good day I hardly recognize who I am. I couldn't even scream when my mind started slipping away. I had nothing except the three fucking buckets of water and so much cabbage that it makes me sick now to even think of eating it. I was cold and scared and dirty and hungry. And I don't bloody want to think about it anymore!"
His voice cracked; Remus was finally crying. "I'm home, everything I wanted I can have, I just wish I could have my fucking life back." The force of his sobs bent his shoulders up, and he clenched his hands tightly. He was incongruous, sitting naked on the wet grass, the white sunlight lighting his hair up like a halo, the tears falling from his cheeks to his knees.
Somehow, I crossed the distance between us; somehow I got my robe over his back and pulled him to me. I do not give comfort easily. But he clung to me with a grip hard enough to bruise, and I patted his back until the violent sobbing stopped.
He spoke against my shirt. "It scares me, Severus. How much of my human mind is irretrievably gone?"
"You may be an idiot, but you are a sensible one, usually. And you're damned good at wandless magic. Your healers estimated that you probably erased about ten months' worth of memories. Order business, secrets. You seem to remember the last time you saw me–"
"I kept that on purpose. I know I did. Foolishly dangerous as it was."
"?but you don't remember transporting the Snorkacks with Lovegood or how the chupacabra ended up in the Ministry or how you buggered the entire British Floo network and made yourself Britain's Most Wanted Wizard. I'm sure it was good fun, Lupin, but it's not really necessary to your psyche. You didn't excise your personality, although your sense of humour seems to have suffered."
"I dare you to make me laugh. Right now."
"I wouldn't know where to begin. You were the one–you were the only one who could make me laugh."
"It was the drink and the drugs."
"No. It was you."
He smiled, almost. "What happens if you cross a werewolf and a sheep?"
"You have to get a new sheep."
"Sorry. Not funny."
"How do you make a werewolf stew?"
"Keep it waiting several hours. What happened when the werewolf swallowed a clock?"
"It got ticks."
"Take a good look, Lupin, I'm not smiling." He reached up, his fingers moving over my cheek to rub against my mouth. "See?"
"I know lots more werewolf jokes. Ha! That was a smile, I felt it."
"That was the corner of my mouth twitching in irritation."
"Are you sure?" He leant forward, his hand sliding to my cheek as he kissed me, very gently. He smelt of wolf and sweat, and he tasted, fortunately, nothing of rabbit or rat. He pulled back almost immediately with a self-depreciating little smile.
"Still stealing kisses." He looked away. "Old habit."
There was an answer I had on the tip of my tongue, but it got lost when I kissed Remus back. His eyes widened with surprise but he responded enthusiastically, opening his mouth for me and trembling as my tongue flicked inside. I wondered when I had stopped hating wanting him. Had stopped fearing him. Fearing for him. Fearing losing him again. Had let him become not an invalid guest but an integral part of my daily life. Can fear be kissed away? When do you know that perfection is no longer necessary, that what you have is enough?
Remus shifted, slightly, and I realised that my robe had slipped from his shoulders. Not only was I holding him to me with my hands on his bare shoulders, but he was shivering with more than desire. I pulled back.
"You're freezing. Let's go up to breakfast."
His mouth twitched in a smile. Progress. "I don't think I could walk that far."
"Then sit, and I'll bring breakfast here. You need to eat. Put this on and button it properly. Here's your wand?cast a warming charm or you'll catch cold."
When I returned Remus was lying on his back, playing with his wand. I had the horrible mental image of him Obliviating himself.
"Hex me, and I won't feed you."
He turned his head to face me. "Sausages?"
"Kindly remember that you are an omnivore. There's salad as well, and fruit. Orange?"
He held out his hand for one, and eventually worked his way through two, section by section, before tackling the sausages.
"Are you supposed to file reports on me?" he asked when the last tomato had disappeared.
I shrugged. "Of course I do. I have mortgaged my reputation and sworn that I can get you back on your feet better than any healer or institution in the UK. You should write the next one yourself. That would impress them."
"I'll put in lots of obscure citations and footnotes."
"Yes, you had quite a reputation for that in school, didn't you?"
"God save me from my school reputation."
"It wasn't as bad as mine."
"Haven't you ever thought how nice it would be to be a Muggle? There are so many of them, you can literally disappear. Reinvent yourself. There are so few of us, Severus, you can't turn a corner for bumping into the past."
"I have observed the phenomena, but I can't say that it makes me yearn to be a Muggle. I like being able to hex the people who fuck with me."
Remus stared, and then, miracle of miracles, he laughed. His face turned red and he wheezed, doubling over, waving one hand helplessly.
"That's the problem with you, Lupin, you don't know what's bloody funny and what's not." He choked out something incoherent. "Remember to breathe."
He took a few deep breaths, looking up through a haze of tears. "I still love you madly, you know."
"Well, no one's ever accused you of good taste yet." I shrank the tray and dishes and dropped them in my pocket to deal with later. "Come on, we need to get you up to the house. You can take a bath."
"That would be nice." I pulled him to his feet. His joints cracked alarmingly as he stood, and his knees nearly folded more than once. It took an absurdly long time to get to the house, and the stairs were a nightmare.
"I think I'll pass on the bath," Remus muttered regretfully. "I'm dead knackered." He curled up on the bed and was asleep instantly, still in my robe.
I took the bath myself, and then decided that I might as well give myself the day off. I stretched out for a short nap, and woke in the late afternoon to the sounds of Remus cobbling together lunch downstairs. I could get used to this, I thought, and then realised: I already have. I savored the feeling for a minute or two, and then went down to see what state of disaster my kitchen was in.
- Chapter Five: Self-Reliant
I couldn't say for certain when Remus began being insufferable again, but I found it shocking that I was relieved. I didn't know the beaten, polite, distant man who had come to stay with me at first. It was almost as if I had missed the humour and innuendo. When he arrived he barely disturbed me at all. Helped out, yes. Moved like a ghost in my house, yes. Bent over backwards to avoid disturbing me, yes. But he came back to himself with a vengeance, in ways that were most disturbing.
It started with small things, almost as if he had awakened to the fact that he had a voice in the course of his own life.
"Have you ever washed out your bathtub, Severus?"
"It's a bathtub, Lupin. It gets washed every time I take a bath."
He looked grim. "Soap and a rag, please."
"I'm going down to the village. Need anything?""You're almost out of Weetabix. Do you have any money?"
He looked immensely pleased with himself. "Made a withdrawal from Gringrotts."
Well, I hadn't heard about that. "If you're feeling flush, pick me up a pallet of strawberry runners."
"I like strawberries."
"They're not for you. I'm trying to make the beetles taste better."
He gave me a level stare. "Buy your own damn strawberries."
"I made dinner.""… Excellent salad, Lupin. I assume the slugs are for protein?"
"Fuck off, Severus."
"What do you do for fun in the evenings around here?""Are you bored, Lupin?"
"No… yes. Let's do something."
"We could play chess."
"Ha bloody ha. Although if you have cards, we could play strip snap."
"And how the hell you would manage that?"
"I would fall back on my preternatural sense of touch."
"I'm fairly sure that there is no strip-and-grope variant of snap."
"There bloody well ought to be. We could name it after you. Snape Strip Snap. Say that three times fast."
"Sod off. So what do you want to do?"
"I don't know?what do you want to do?"
I couldn't help it?I slapped the back of his head, a bit harder than necessary. The force of my annoyance surprised me. What surprised me more was that Lupin burst out laughing. Even after he had stopped, his grin remained.
"Have I mentioned that I love how you treat me like a fragile hothouse flower?"
"You are a torment."
"But I'm your torment."
"Go get a book to read, or darn your robes, or something. I'm going to lie here on the sofa and relax. So don't sit on me," I added as an afterthought. "That's my head, Lupin. If I wanted it on your bony lap I would have asked you to sit there. You'll notice I didn't."
"My preternatural sense of touch is telling me that you've got quite a bit of tension here."
"Your hands… destroy me. Ah. Yes. More, right there."
His fingers were strong and warm as they massaged my head and neck–although I suspect I wasn't entirely conscious through the entire experience. I might even have fallen asleep, although there were none of the usual bad dreams. When I opened my eyes next, the fire had burned down to embers, and there was a blanket across my legs. Lupin was still sitting with my head in his lap, one hand resting on my shoulder, his head leaning back against the back of the sofa. I shifted, and his eyes opened.
"We need to get you up to bed, you're knackered."
"And I have execrable manners." I sat up, stiffly. "How long was I asleep?"
He shrugged. "No idea. I nodded off, watching you. We have become dull old people, I fear."
"Speak for yourself." I forced myself to my feet and held out my hand. He didn't take it, so: watching me in the tactile sense. I took his hand and pulled him up.
"Ow. You've made bits of me fall asleep."
"Well, we're going to go put the rest of you to sleep with them. Come on, then."
We made it upstairs by a strange process of leaning on each other, and really, it seemed too much of a bother to go all the way down the hallway to Lupin's room. Somehow, in the dark, we both ended up on my bed.
"What are you doing, Lupin?"
"Quick round of Strip Snape."
"We are both too tired."
"I know." His mouth found mine, and he kissed me?very chastely, for him. "But you don't want to sleep in your robes, really you don't." He kissed me again. Good night, Severus."
"Good night. Don't snore. Or steal the blankets." But he was already asleep.
I didn't expect to find him with me in the morning. He hadn't spent more than one or two nights indoors so far. But he was there, next to me, radiating warmth like the Aga. His hair was tangled on the pillow, but his face looked young without the tensions of consciousness. His chest was bare; I wasn't sure whether he wore anything beneath the tangled sheet. I reached out and brushed the hair off his shoulder.
"I love you," I whispered, feeling ridiculous. "I love you. I forgive you."
He stirred, not opening his eyes. "Will you want to Obliviate me if I confess to being awake?"
"Probably. You'd better go back to sleep." I could feel my ears burning.
"Kiss me." He opened his eyes. "Kiss me and make love to me. Please?"
And I did. And I did. And I did.
And the wonder of it was how all the shattered pieces from years ago came together to form a whole, almost as if nothing had been broken at all.
- Interlude "Incendio"
I knew that Remus tried not to wake me when his vision returned at night. He had plenty to do, after all: books to read, letters to write, things around the house and grounds that he wanted to see, or fix, or study.
Still, it was unnerving to come up out of deep sleep to bright wand-light and a pair of eyes less than a hand-span away from my own. My surprise–and the surge of annoyance that accompanied it–must have shown in my face, because Remus pulled back immediately.
"Good plan, Lupin. Now we're both awake in the dark."
The mattress shifted under his weight. "Go back to sleep."
I reached out, finding him sitting on the edge of the bed. "Do not be an idiot. I'd only lie in the dark working up resentment. Put the damned lights on and come back here. And apologize properly for waking me up."
Remus snorted. "Incendio." The wick of the hurricane lamp hissed and popped into flame. He turned and stretched out on his side beside me, resting his head on one hand. "I am sorry I woke you." He leant down and kissed me. It was not a very apologetic kiss, and I told him so.
"I'm not sorry you're awake." He tugged the sheet down and kicked it off the bed. "I am sorry that you're wearing pajamas. I want to see you." He kissed me again, but did not entirely manage to distract me from his fingers undoing my buttons, or from his hand moving across my chest, slowly. I hadn't realised I was cold until I felt his warmth.
"Help me get this shirt off… and you might as well do the trousers while you're at it," he added.
"Doesn't seem fair, somehow."
"I want to see you," he repeated and tossed my pajamas over to join the sheet, but he smirked when I glared and obediently added his own to the pile.
The windows were open, and the cool night wind made the lamp-light flicker, honey-gold light moving in and out of the shadows. The light on Remus' skin made him look–angelic was quite the wrong word–he was more like a pagan deity. The sort that always made mischief out of normal human lives.
I don't know what I looked like to him, but he smiled in a way that would have had mothers locking away their virgin daughters, and bent his head to close his mouth on the base of my neck..
"Ow! That's going to make a mark, damn it."
He raised his head, and traced the bruise with a finger. "I know."
"Somebody might see it."
"Somebody can," he said smugly, and attacked me again. This time he trailed his mouth lower, licking at first one nipple and then the other until I found myself trembling beneath him, my hands unable to keep still on his skin. His tongue trailed lower, lapping my navel not quite enough to tickle. He took my cock in one hand and I groaned as he licked a spiral around my cockhead–and groaned again when he pulled back, his hand still stroking me.
"What are you doing, Lupin?"
"Watching." He leant forward to lick away a bead of moisture. "Fascinating, really."
I pushed myself up on my elbows, and then realised that I was watching Remus watch me…. His tongue skimmed across me again, and I had to clench my teeth tight on a cry. Remus' eyes flashed to my face, and he grinned.
"I could watch something else," he suggested, and slid up so his body covered mine.
"What do you have in mind?"
He kissed me hard, moving his hips so his cock rubbed against mine. "I want to see you come," he said. No, he was definitely not an angel. "I haven't in years."
"That could be arranged," I agreed, reaching for my wand.
My memories, afterwards, were like still photos.
The look of fierce wonder on Remus' face as I entered him.
The shine of sweat across his shoulders, and the way it caught the golden light.
The way his hair fell back away from his face and tangled on the bed as he arched beneath me.
The unblinking burn of his eyes on me as I shuddered my release into him, his look of triumph which dissolved into a harsh cry of his own, my name repeated over and over.
The glow of his eyes as he held me, afterwards, and told me he loved me until he fell asleep, still smiling
- Chapter Six: Away
Octobre second was the seventh full moon since Remus was found. His half-year of quarantine could be lifted, pending the approval of the Ministry and St Mungo's. Remus made his appointments quietly and packed his traveling case.
On the morning he left, we stood in the front hall being awkward with each other. Remus smiled at me.
"You'll be able to have your friends and customers over when I'm gone, and not have to Apparate off all over the country. Be nice to have some company, I'm sure."
"It hasn't exactly been solitary confinement, you know," I snapped, and then realised what I'd said. "Remus–"
He laughed. "Come here." He snaked one arm around me. "It wasn't solitary confinement at all. Trust me. I'm the expert." He kissed my cheek. "But you've made sacrifices to have me here, and I want you to know I appreciate it. You do have plans for the next week or so?"
"I'm not going to melt, Lupin."
"Neither am I."
I snorted. "Touche."
He stepped back and fumbled with the door. "See you then, Severus."
I watched him walk down the hill, past the apparition point to the road. He always waited until he was past the plottability line to transfigure his wand into a walking cane. It was thirty minutes' walk to the train station, an hour by rail to London. Thence to St Mungo's and a battery of exams and evaluations, culminating in imprisonment in a cage in a basement room. Remus did not admit to being afraid. When I broached the subject, he shrugged and said that if it did drive him feral, well, he wouldn't have a mind to mind being put down.
Because that was what the Ministry had the power to do.
But if my faith in my own potions and in Remus' recovery was not misplaced, Remus would then proceed upstairs to the Spell-Damage ward, where another series of tests would be done. Most likely, Remus would be classified with Permanent Spell Damage. The benefits included a free pass for the Knight Bus and discount rates for medical services; the disadvantages (besides the obvious one of having PSD) included mandatory meetings with a Rehabilitation Officer and living-with-disabilities training sessions conducted by enthusiastic junior Healers in pastel robes.
The first owl arrived late the following afternoon. The note was written in Dicta-Quill.
"Arrived safely after an uneventful trip. I have a private room
here and am not even thinking about the bill. The food is terrible,
the allergy tests are ghastly beyond words, and I will write again
Scrawled at the bottom in his own hand was the message, "Missing you already."
The next owl was patchy and half-starved; I imagined it must have taken it at least half a day to arrive from London.
"The Healers (and the Ministry man) are very interested in your
Wolfsbane. I suggest that you publish soon. They don't
seem the sort to respect someone else's research. RL"
I smirked. Having by nature far less trust in the world, I had already submitted my work to the Potions Guild Board. I predicted that, much as I'd rather not, I would be getting owls about feral werewolves from concerned authorities on a regular basis. Still, after being unable to submit any newly developed potions for several years (at least, not to the Guild), I planned to get any recognition I deserved. Even if only for refining someone else's potion.
The following day was Octobre 2, the day of the full moon. I almost didn't open Remus' letter, cowardice disguised as prudence: it arrived as I was having tea with Minerva McGonagall. The owl's message case bore the distinctive mark of St Mungo's, but Minerva pretended not to notice and wandered off discretely to inspect a floral border that was infested with large, hairy, poisonous caterpillars.
"I had forgotten how tedious hospitals are. I think the boredom
is the worst part, and the waiting. Harry's coming by tomorrow–
I almost told him not to bother, as I'm sure I'll not be fit
company, but I broke down shamelessly and begged for books. The
next time I see you, I'm sure I will be full of fascinating
Quidditch facts. Hope all is well. RL"
I handed the letter to Minerva, who looked a bit misty-eyed.
"The poor boy," she said, "I'll have to send him some appropriate reading."
Remus must have ingratiated himself with the hospital's owl keeper, because his next note was delivered by a sleek express owl only an hour after moonset. It was handwritten, the ink smeared and the letters shaky.
"It worked. I'm glad to be alive. Will write again
tomorrow, I'm falling asleep."
On the afternoon of the fourth the owl arrived sometime while I was in the back, leading three old acquaintances from my apprentice days around what Remus referred to as the Greenhouse of Horrors (was there anyplace on the property not marked with his touch?). We ended up reliving past follies with some of the more inhibition-reducing substances I grow, and it wasn't until I staggered into my room late that night that I noticed the owl. This time it was a proper letter.
"Harry came to visit again today, incognito, of course. I had
several hours open so we escaped together into Muggle London.
We had real Moroccan cuisine for lunch. Apparently it is all
the rage this year. We walked along the Thames and ended up in
Picadilly Circus, which hasn't changed, except that there seem
to be more people than I remembered. Harry says to tell you hello.
He is a bit concerned for Hermione Granger, who is apparently
apprenticing in dental Potions. You've never mentioned this. She
won't be moving in, will she? Just asking. I've had all the
Quidditch news and the locker-room gossip, as well as news of former
students. Harry says he will poke them with sticks until they come
and see me. He shares my dislike of medical establishments.
You might answer these letters, you know. I am deliberately not
writing them in my own vile handwriting, so you cannot say that
they were illegible. RL"
I dashed off a reply and sent it immediately prior to falling asleep (passing out might be the more proper term). Gods alone knew what I wrote; I certainly didn't remember when I crawled out of bed the next morning.
The next day's client meetings and routines I attended to with that disturbing lapse of memory prominent in my mind. I did not look forward to Remus' owl as I had previously; but when it arrived I opened the message straightaway.
"Severus, you have been drinking. But nevertheless, sweet
of you to say so. And your answers: Yes. Yes. No. Soon. The
Healers want to test my eyesight, so we are waiting for a moment
of visual acuity. I get woken up once an hour all night long, just
in case it happens at night. I am bored and tired. I don't
know how long it will take, but I hope to be home soon.
No matter how I banged my head against that puzzle, I could only leave it alone or submit to the indignity of asking Remus what I had written. I hoped it hadn't been too salacious.
The next day:
"I've shocked you, haven't I? No news here, except that I'm
going to Moody's for supper. Hints of exciting news have been
made (brace yourself: when newlyweds say that, it usually only
means one thing). RSVP–RL"
And the day after:
"Good news, bad day, will write tomorrow."
Which I couldn't ignore. I knew how he would react no matter how I explained it, so I gave the barest account of my last letter. As an afterthought, I added:
"Do you want me to come up? SS"
His reply came the next morning.
"I laughed so hard I fell off the bed and then I had to spend
five minutes finding your note again. I am returning your
Mystery Letter. Do not burn it: I am saving all your
correspondence to tie up with a ribbon and hide in my desk, and
this is the prize of my collection, I'm afraid. I knew you grew some
illegal substances, but I didn't know they were for personal use.
You shall have to introduce me. You needn't come up, I shall
be fine. I've been all around the Ministry, filling out forms
in triplicate, applying for my Apparation license and work permit,
etc. etc. Had lunch with various Weasleys and important Ministry
connections–their cafeteria is appalling. The nurses here are
starting to avoid me and my bad temper. I think what I have is
a mental block. I just don't want to waste a chance to see you
on seeing a doctor. I'm off to Diagon Alley today with Harry's
alumni connections. Let me know if you'd like the gossip, or if
there's anything you want me to buy. RL"
The letter was just as bad as I had feared. Worse. I hid it, wondering if Remus would believe me if I said the owl ate it.
"Spare me the gossip. Attached is a list. Do not pay more than
the price indicated. Items marked with a star would need prompt
delivery, as they might spoil, rot, hatch, or explode. SS"
To my chagrin, I found myself, after lunch, waiting for the owl. I retreated to my lab, having no distracting visitors, and set up to fill some of my outstanding orders. Potions-making was, as always, an excellent distraction; however, a keen sense of time is necessary, and I found myself half-watching the clock.
But the owl never came.
- Chapter Eight: Worth Living
"Fear does not become you."
My voice, sneering at Remus Lupin three years ago, before he walked out of Grimmauld Place and into incomprehensible risks and dangers. But what he feared most then was me, and the power over him that I had been given.
"No? I find it keeps me alive."
Remus Lupin's voice, self-mocking, self-hating. And then my voice again:
"And is your life so worth living?"
Those were the last words I spoke to him. I didn't mean it –but of course I did, or I wouldn't have said it. Did he remember the words as clearly as I did? I had never hated him more than on that day. I hated him as he revealed his deception but still professed his love for me. How could I not have? And certainly he was in no position to turn the question back on me, though in time I asked it of myself.
"No. But I hope my sacrifices make up for something."
I sometimes thought that by declaring his love, Remus was forfeiting it; that he removed it from his heart –made it his first sacrifice– so that he would be able to do what he did. He was not uniquely brave, by any means. But there had been a straightforward, unflinching quality to the way Remus had abandoned his life, his reputation, his country, even his health and sanity. A quality found in those who know they will die. And perhaps in those who entrust their hearts to people who tell them their lives are worth nothing.
"Is your life so worth living?"
Cold comfort those words must have been to Remus, trying so hard to redeem himself, to make his life worthy.
Cold comfort when chained to the wall.
And yet, and yet, he was building a life worth living.
And oddly enough, I had chosen to let him build it with me.
And now I needed to let him go, because we neither of us controlled the other, being free and independent. It shouldn't be hard. Back into the world with you, Remus Lupin.
I set up for the last brewing of the day, the shadows already lengthening as the world spun into equinox. I would not wait for an owl. It was ridiculous. He was not obliged to write. I certainly did not feel compelled to do so myself.
I had two red iron cauldrons producing a pall of lavender smoke and was peeling a level cupful of tamamushi when there was a knock at the door.
The house was well-warded; I ought to have known if anyone approached, much less entered. My wand was in my hand before I consciously thought about it.
"Ake." The door swung inwards, and Remus lowered his hand, tilting his head to one side.
"Who else would it be?"
Remus was not comfortable in my lab, nor did I welcome his presence. It was both distracting and dangerous. He paused in the doorway, and then shrugged. "I brought your shopping." He held out a carrier bag that rustled ominously. "I'm going to have tea." The invitation was unspoken; he did not, after all, know if he was interrupting anything. Which he was, but it could be made to wait. He was home.
I took the bag just as something with claws scrambled to the top. I prodded it down with my wand. "I'll be out shortly."
He smiled, pleasure showing through fatigue, and shut the door smartly. When I had put the shopping away and my work on hold, I washed up and wandered out to the kitchen. Remus had a proper bachelor's High Tea on the table, complete with Chinese meat pasties, some unrecognizable fried things, and the inevitable sandwich fixings.
"Good god. They put a Domesticity Curse on you."
"Shut up and eat. I would guess you haven't yet today." Ah –the lack of dishes on the drainboard.
"I might have tidied up after myself."
"That I doubt. When I do discover the Domesticity Curse, you'll be in trouble." He handed me a plate, and I fell to. I was hungry after all, and we ate in companionable greedy silence. It gave me time to readjust to Remus' presence, which was as heavy on my senses as his absence had been. I wanted our easy familiarity to come back. After all, he had only been gone a week and a bit. Surely I could get by without him for a week. If he were recovered, he would be leaving me all the time to go off and live his Remus-life, whatever that was now.
"You buggered my security, didn't you?"
He finished an overly large bite of a cucumber, wasabi, and ham sandwich and sniffled appreciatively. "It's a talent," he said modestly.
"So–are you recovered?"
"I've got a Bill of Good Health." He fished it out of his traveling case and held it up, a scroll with St. Mungo's written down the side in green letters and tied with a green ribbon. "I'm set to stop being a leech on society –that would be you –and pay back my debts."
"What will you do now?"
He gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Get a paying job. Buy cardigans."
"It may surprise you, but I was making an honest inquiry."
Remus bit his lip, looked at me. "There is an opening at the Ministry," he said slowly. "In Magical Law. They need someone who can deconstruct Dark spells, especially on the Dark objects which are flooding the black market these days."
"I've been accepted. Well, begged. It was a bit of a surprise –apparently Arthur Weasley put my name at the top of the list. And I am eminently available."
"When do you start?"
"After the next full moon. So I will need to buy some cardigans."
"It sounds like a job well-suited to you. You will be working at the Ministry?"
"I'll have my own desk. My own office. Possibly a secretary. Definitely a pension. Not bad, considering I nearly got to write Azkaban on my C.V." He set down his sandwich and summoned two bottles of beer. "Here." He tapped the bottlecap off his with his wand and took a long drink. "But it's not a desk job. Most of my time would be spent in the field, tracking down dangerous criminals and relieving them of hazardous Dark magic objects that no one knows how to work properly."
"Ah. That sets my mind at ease." Yes, this definitely was where alcohol was welcome.
"I thought it would."
"It's not as if I'm going to be gnawing my fingernails worrying over you, Lupin."
"I don't expect you to."
"Good." I leant back and looked at him as he dipped a pasty into Chinese mustard. "You're free, you know."
His eyes darted to me. "I knew I was free when I walked into your house and you gave me a wand. When I slept under the stars, and every time I walked down to the village and past the train station. When I chose to be with you." He poked the scroll on the table. "I will still choose to be with you, if you will have me."
"I don't consider that you are obliged to me," I clarified. "You don't need to stay here."
He raised an eyebrow. "Are we having the conversation where you tell me to get out of your house, or the conversation where you ask me to stay?"
"I missed you, when you were gone."
His smile was radiant. "You missed me?"
"You annoy me…."
"And torment me…."
"You are insufferable on many occasions…."
"Why did I miss you?"
He pushed his chair back and walked around the table to where I sat. He tilted my head back and kissed me, his hands framing my face.
"Because I love you," he said, and kissed me again. "And, maybe, because you love me?"
"Maybe," I said. He gave me a look, and then went and rummaged through his bag, taking out a red leather case.
"Look at these–they're brilliant." He pulled on the thickest glasses I've ever seen. His magnified eyes filled the lenses. "Well worth the days in hospital waiting for a vision test, don't you think?"
"You look like an owl."
"I know. They really kill my sex appeal completely."
"Your lack of fashion sense killed your sex appeal long ago. Sexually speaking, when dressed, you have no appeal."
"Interesting qualifier, Severus. Do I have some appeal undressed?"
"Can you make out the leer on my face?"
He squinted at me. "Almost." One hand reached out, and I redirected his fingers to my mouth.
"I could whip something up for dessert."
"Something already is up."
"Ah–the old fingers-as-a-metaphor ploy."
"Let's go upstairs. Now."
Remus leant over and kissed me, hard. "It's good to be home." He pulled me up. "Would it be presumptuous to say our home?"
"No. And upstairs is our room, and our bed."
He followed me up. On the bed and naked he reacquainted himself with my body, demonstrating what he has learnt. I likewise have a knowledge of Remus esoterica: where a light touch makes him moan, or the scrape of a fingernail triggers a convulsion. Our patient attention to mutual exploration was one of the joys of not being an adolescent.
I kissed my way down Remus' throat, across his chest, and down lower still. I took Remus in my mouth, using the tip of my tongue as I had on his fingers before. He groaned and tensed his hips to keep from thrusting. He came with a sharp cry, hands entwined in my hair. I slid up to kiss him. He grinned under me.
"Your glasses are unnerving," I told him. "No, keep them on, you're just like the wolf in the story."
His grin widened. "The better to see you, my dear."
"I'm not going to talk about your teeth."
His hand stretched down to stroke me lazily. "Oh, grandma, what an enormous cock you've got."
"That's–nmn–perverse. And–ah!–what talented hands you have, Mr Wolf."
"I'm pretty sure grandma ended up inside the wolf at the end of the story."
"I defer to your knowledge of childish things." I said the familiar spells, and Remus' hand, hot and rough, held me in place. A swift thrust and I breached him. I stopped, enjoying the way he moaned and thrust his hips up, desperate for more. More would be given slowly, a slow inexorable push and then pulling back as Remus' fingers tugged at my hips.
"The best kind."
He narrowed his eyes and wrapped his legs around me, lifting his hips clear of the bed. I thrust home then, and his hands grabbed for purchase on the sheets as I fucked him hard. He cried out with me as I came.
We lay there, tangled in each other, our breathing growing even and lazy together.
Remus' eyes were not as magnified as they had been, and he smiled. "I can see you." Of course, our noses were practically touching.
"Your lenses changed."
"Magic." He reached up and brushed my hair back from my forehead. "I love you."
"You keep saying that." My arm was falling asleep, and I shifted to get comfortable. Remus took the opportunity to place his head on my shoulder, which I was sure wouldn't do me any good in the long run, and stretched one arm across my stomach. "Were you scared in hospital?" The question was not what I meant to ask. He gave me a wary look again.
"Scared spitless." He hesitated, then raised the arm over my stomach. There were round red marks in a line from the inside of his elbow to his wrist.
"Those are silver burns."
"That is an allergy test." He shrugged. "I nearly walked out, oh, four or five times. I don't like being reminded that I am not human."
"Inhuman describes someone who would inflict that on you. It's obvious that you have the allergy."
He looked at me. "Same question to you. Were you scared?"
I covered his arm with my own. "Scared of the change? I had faith in you. You being a damn stubborn bastard. Afraid that you wouldn't want to come back? Scared spitless." His arm tightened around me. "I kept thinking of our last conversation in the Grimmauld house."
"Of what an idiot I was?"
"Of what I said to you in anger."
"I don't have a monopoly on idiocy, you know." He turned his head, nuzzling my neck. "Where you are is my home. And I've known that for far longer than you have." He sat up. "I have something for you." He crossed to his traveling case and pulled out a package in a plain brown paper. "Here you go."
"It's neither my birthday nor Christmas."
"Well." He shrugged. "You could put it on the mantelpiece and wait."
"You irritate me," I said, and unstuck one corner, pulling the paper over slowly. If he was impatient, he hid it well, sitting with his back against the headboard and his legs crossed.
I undid the second seal on the paper and a box slid out. The name on the box was for a very expensive Diagon Alley shop. "Tell me you didn't rob Gringrotts."
"I got an advance on my salary." He shrugged. "They never work very well if you buy second-hand. I know rings are traditional, but they make me claustrophobic."
"I don't think we have a tradition to go on." I opened the box. It was a pocket watch, a proper wizarding one, and I wondered what it did. I opened it to see.
"It hasn't been set yet. I didn't want to presume…."
I handed it to him. "Do not be an idiot."
He smiled faintly and wrapped his hand around it. "Remus John Lupin," he said, and there was a faint chime. He handed it back.
I looked at the clock face, where the large hand was on 'in bed' and the smaller one on 'madly in love (and somewhat embarrassed).' I smirked.
"You'll have trouble losing me, now," he said. "Is it working?"
I pulled him down and kissed him. "It's working." I held it out to him, and he looked at it briefly; I doubted that even with his glasses he could make out the words. He set the watch carefully on the bedside table.
"So you don't mind if I stay?" he asked.
"I'd mind if you didn't."
He smiled. "Good."
"You're handy about the place."
"Mm. I know my way around," he said, winding himself around me and settling his head back in the crook of my arm.
"Good night, Remus."